A host of amendments to Russia’s Constitution were overwhelmingly approved by voters, including one paving the way for President Vladimir Putin to remain in power through 2036, according to official results announced Thursday.
With 100% of ballots counted, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said 77.92% of the population voted for the changes while 21.27% opposed them.
The weeklong vote started on June 25 and ended on July 1, with a turnout of 65%, it added.
The results mean the amendments will come into force, as the condition of approval from over half of the voters was met.
Russia’s Constitution allows for two consecutive terms as president, but the amendments would hit the reset button, allowing Putin two additional possible six-year terms, running through 2036.
Asked if he might stay in power that long, Putin – the country’s ruler for two decades, alternating as president or prime minister – said that “he did not exclude anything,” citing the need to maintain political stability.
Without the changes, he warned, “instead of normal rhythmic work at many levels of government, eyes will start searching for possible successors. It is necessary to work and not search for successors.”
Other constitutional changes give the Russian government and parliament broader powers.
Requirements for candidates for public office also grew stricter: they are prohibited from holding foreign passports, residency, or overseas bank accounts, while candidates for president also have to have lived in Russia for at least 25 years.
The amendments anchor the Constitution taking precedence over international agreements, ban any action threatening Russia’s territorial integrity, and also drawn the line on traditional values, such as forbidding same-sex marriage.
The “social bloc” of amendments gives pension an annual raise, sets a minimum wage lower than the subsistence minimum, give support for parenthood and childhood, and promotes a “responsible” attitude to animals.
Yea or nay
Russia’s opposition protested the changes, accusing the administration of trying to extend Putin’s lengthy tenure.
The large number of amendment offered collectively under an “all up or down” format also drew fire, denying voters a chance to approve of some changes while rejecting others.
The opposition also decried the absence of a minimum turnout for a vote on constitutional changes.
Despite a ban on campaigning, instructional leaflets by the Central Election Commission (CEC) also came under fire, as they told the public to vote “for” rather than “on” the changes, with the word “for” in red.
A lottery for all voters in the referendum was also criticized for artificially inflating turnout.
There were too few observers at too many polling sites, some in such unusual places as car trunks, the opposition also said.
According to the voting commission, over 108 million voters are registered in Russia and 1.9 million abroad.
So far, no major violations were found in the voting, the said.
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